Marx Foods’ Iron Foodie 2010

While this may not be news to those that know me, Dear Reader, I am a bit competitive.  The Foodie Blogroll, a great resource site for food bloggers looking to network and monetize their blogs, holds several contests every month in conjunction with various sponsors.  Their latest contest really sounds intriguing so I decided to give it a whirl.

Step 1.

Write a blog post answering these questions by November 5th, 2010:

  1. Why do you want to compete in this challenge?
  2. Limitations of time/space notwithstanding, whose kitchen would you like to spend the day in & why? Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria, James Beard, Marie-Antoine Careme, or The Swedish Chef?
  3. What morsel are you most likely to swipe from family & friends’ plates when they aren’t looking?
  4. Sum your childhood up in one meal.
  5. The one mainstream food you can’t stand?

A desire to compete as a personal challenge to my creativity is the initial reason I want to participate but also because the first prize is a $200 gift card to Marx Foods.  They have 11 categories listed for truffles alone!  So we are going with creativity as first choice for reason to compete but Kurobuta pork and uni by mail order are a close second.

Julia Childs would absolutely be my fantasy chef for the day.  I learned to love cooking as so many others did in front of their PBS station on Saturday afternoons while watching the indomitable Childs explain the difference between a hen and a pullet, demonstrate the perfect omelette, and manage to make tripe look appetizing.  She brought European cooking to middle America, not by dumbing it down but explaining and demonstrating in clear and precise steps.  She also helped develop the food television medium as a way to share what she loved, much as bloggers are doing with the internet now.  All with pearls and a smile.

My favortie morsels to swipe would be off the dessert plate.  A bit of icing here, a dab of whipped cream there, perhaps a stray berry or two.  Who am I kidding?  I call it “quality control” but I think I may have a real problem.  My name is Christy and I am a dessertaholic.

I was raised by a mom that had a full time job, a part time job, and three kids including one with special needs.  Although her mother was a fabulous cook, it never really was my mom’s thing.  We never went hungry but meals were more likely to be frozen foods than made from scratch.  A constant comfort food came in the red and white can made even more famous in 60’s pop art, Campbell’s Soup.  It was my mother’s secret sauce in a variety of casseroles that I still crave on occasion.  But the meal I recall most vividly was a steaming bowl of tomato soup-  made with water, not milk as some misinformed chefs vainly attempt to improve on a masterpiece.  Of course tomato soup must come with grilled cheese.  Oh, I’ve had the fancy, tarted up grilled sleazus like Gruyere and Stilton on walnut bread with the thinnest smear of fig compote.  The grilled cheese-us of my childhood was simple white bread toasted on the griddle with a molten hot lava flow of processed cheese food in the middle.  You could not eat it straight out of the pan or you would likely suffer a severe burn to the roof of your mouth or a napalm dribble down your chin.  Tomato soup and grilled cheese on a gray drizzly day when I was feeling sick.  Tomato soup and grilled cheese on summer afternoons when I was starving after morning swimming lessons.  Tomato soup and grilled cheese was the first meal I learned to cook for myself.  All that I cook now started there.

The only mainstream food that I can think of that I cannot stand are green peppers.  I really like the red, orange, or yellow varieties but I despise the green ones.

Well, there you go.  Answers to questions posted.  I figured out how to post the contest badge to my blogs footer.  Now I cross my fingers that I get the golden mystery box to create something yummy with.  Fingers crossed!

Pitchfork Fondue

Why have I never heard of this before?  I love meat.  I love fried things.  I love using yard tools for cooking utensils. 

I ran across this concept researching answers for an online contest.  I am thinking this would be a great use for that big pot of peanut oil used to fry a turkey  for Thanksgiving.  Redneck holiday, anyone?

Guide to Austin Restaurant Week Part 2

Kona Grill  Chain in the Domain.  That is not always a bad thing.  I like Jasper’s which is a chain in the Domain.  This is not Jasper’s.

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue  Upscale barbecue by Austin darling Lou Lambert and his protegee Larry McGuire.  I actually worked for Lou at his very popular coffee house Jo’s for a bit.  Lou is a great chef and a great guy.   And his food is very, very tasty.

Max’s Wine Dive  Their slogan is “Champagne and fried chicken, why not?”  This place started in Houston but has that dressy casual vibe that is popular in Austin.  Food is pretty good, too.

McCormick & Schmick’s Domain  And yet another chain in the Domain.  Packed with pretty people at all times.  Food is so so.

McCormick & Schmick’s Downtown  Ditto.  Except it is downtown.

NoRTH  Chain.  Domain.  At $25 for dinner menu, this is a bargain at least.

Olivia  Foie Gras Brulee.  Yes, yes, yes!!!!!!

 Paggi House  Definitely in the top 10 in Austin.  I really like the short ribs and bread pudding which are both on the restaurant week menu.

Parkside  I <3 Shawn Cirkiel.  With bone marrow and a raw bar, this is the place I would take Anthony Bourdain on our imaginary foodie date.  Tony, Shawn, and me trading shots at the bar at 2am.  If you have not been, please go now.

Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar  Headed by Larry McGuire, this place has gotten tons of good press.  Personally, I have not been that impressed. 

Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille  Downtown pretty people bar scene with a pretty good happy hour.  They are most famous for their huge pork chops.

Roaring Fork Downtown  Southwestern cuisine.  The green chili pork is delicious.

Roaring Fork Stonelake  The newer and bigger Roaring Fork is in north Austin with a great view of Quarry Lake.

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse  Please go to Austin Land and Cattle instead if you want a steak.

Shoreline Grill  Great view of Town Lake.

Sullivan’s Steakhouse  They also do a seasonal prix fixe menu which is around the same price.

Sushi Zushi of 5th Street  Good sushi but $35 for pot stickers, roll, and dessert seems a little steep to me.

Sushi Zushi of Domain  They have a location at the Domain.  Shocker.

The Belmont  Great bar with adequate food.

The Carillon  Josh Watkins is a freaking genius.  Why this place is not packed every night is a mystery.  There is even a parking garage and the restaurant validates, so no parking issues even though it is on campus.  Since they are closed on Sunday and Monday, they are even extending the restaurant week menu to Thursday and Friday.  The pork belly is the best in town.  If you have not been, here is your chance!

The Melting Pot  Fondue is fun.  More kitschy fun than good food fun, though. 

The Ranch 616  Not easily summed up with a type but closest would be Southwestern.  Most famous for their oysters.

The Tavern  Bar food for $25?  Really??????

TNT – Tacos and Tequila  I am not wild about the name but the food served by former Jeffrey’s chef Alma Alcocer Thomas is spot on.  Great Sunday brunch also.

TRIO at Four Seasons Hotel Austin  A couple of years back, they revamped the Cafe to become Trio, an upscale steakhouse.  I will do a full review after another visit but I was very disappointed in my first restaurant week choice.  Service was top notch and the wine choices are excellent.  But the kitchen did not perform well on Sunday night.  Too bad.

Truluck’s Arboretum  Chain but really top notch seafood.  Get the crab claws.

Truluck’s Downtown  Right at 4th and Colorado, this is in the heart of the warehouse district.  Again, crab claws.

Uchiko  Hottest restaurant in town, hands down.  I booked reservations for my birthday which is during restaurant week this year.  I plan to go early for their “Social Hour” also.    Tyson Cole and Paul Qui are geniuses but I think they may be eclipsed by the pastry king Philip Speer.   I will probably have 2 desserts.  It is my birthday, after all.

Repost: Serious Eats Guide to Tropical Fruit

I love Serious Eats.  They have great articles, topical and well written.  My favorite is foodie geek Kenji, formerly from Cook’s Illustrated.  He has written great pieces about how to use your beer cooler to cook sous vide and scientific comparisons of knives and pans.  I usually don’t repost articles because it seems kind of like cheating but this useful guide will help me next time I am at Fiesta.  Thanks, Kenji!

Uchiko Menu for Austin Restaurant Week

As the red hot Texas summer finally  begins to show mercy, it is that time of year again, Austin Restaurant Week, when many of Austin’s finest do a prix fixe menu ($10 – $15 for lunch and $25 – $35 for dinner) with a portion going to the Sustainable Food Center.  This is your chance to try places you have never been and places you have wished you could all in the name of charity.  This year the “week” runs Sunday through Wednesday for two weeks in a row September 19-22 and 26-29.  My birthday happens to fall towards the end on the 28th, so I immediately put in for reservations at the hottest new restaurant in Austin Uchiko, the beautiful little sister to Tyson Cole’s Uchi, where I had my best and most expensive meal ever. Uchi has limited seating and is perpetually full, so it has never participated in restaurant week.  The much bigger Uchiko has room for the hordes that are sure to descend.  Here is the menu for restaurant week.

Uchiko

Mexican Dark Chocolate Ice Cream with Spicy Pecans

For the past 4 years during the string of 100 degree days Austin has, there is an Ice Cream Festival held at Waterloo Park.  There is an I Scream contest, an ice cream eating contest, a Popsicle stick art contest, and an ice cream making contest.  I participated the first year and had a really great time but it took a couple of years to forget how hot it is to carry a mobile kitchen in and out of a park.  The first year I made a goat cheese with rosemary and fig ice cream.  It was popular but probably a little too “different” to win.   Surprisingly, nobody made a chocolate ice cream so this year I decided to try a dark chocolate flavored with my favorite Mexican vanilla, Danncy’s**** and accented with homemade spicy pecans.  I didn’t win this year either but had a blast and met some really nice folks who I promised I would post my recipe, so here it is.   

MEXICAN DARK CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

2 CUPS MILK

1 CUP CREAM

6 EGG YOLKS

4 TBSP COCOA

6 OZ CHOCOLATE

½ C SUGAR

1 TSP INSTANT COFFEE

½ TSP CINNAMON

2 TBSP DANNCY’S MEXICAN VANILLA

½ TSP SALT

HEAT MILK AND CREAM, ADD COCOA, CINNAMON, AND COFFEE, STIR TO DISSOLVE.  PLACE REMAINING INGREDIENTS INTO BLENDER, POUR IN HOT MILK AND PROCESS TILL SMOOTH.  CHILL IN REFRIGERATOR FOR 2-3 HOURS.  POUR INTO ICE CREAM MAKER AND FOLLOW MANUFACTURER DIRECTIONS.  MIX IN SPICY PECANS.  PLACE IN FREEZER TO HARDEN. 

SPICY PECANS

1 tsp cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder*
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning (or your favorite seasoning salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (preferably chipotle)
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 large egg whites
  • 3 cups pecan halves

1/2 cup sugar

Heat oven to 275 degrees.  Stir first 8 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Whisk egg white in large bowl until foamy. Whisk in spice mixture. Add pecan halves; toss to coat completely. Sprinkle sugar over and toss to coat.  Cover baking sheet with Silpat or parchment paper.  Spread pecans across in single layer.  Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes. 

I usually make these pecans with 1/4 sugar but I found for the ice cream, they needed to be a little sweeter and the bits of spicy caramelized sugar that come off the pecans give the ice cream a nice kick. 

****  check the web for warnings about Danncy and Coumarin.  The bottle I have says Coumarin free but be forwarned.

 

Make it in the Pan Pie Crust

Pie crusts can be so intimidating.  Lard, shortening, butter which fat is best?  There are tomes of books written on the subject.  Then there is the mess of rolling it out and getting it in the pan.  I have to admit, one of my proudest moments in culinary school was turning out a truly flaky pie crust which should ideally be done with every pie that comes out of your kitchen.  In the real world, sometimes I want a shortcut that does not shortcut on flavor.  Store bought is NOT an option.  Especially when homemade is this easy.

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. oil
  • 2 tbsp. milk

Mix dry ingredients in bottom of 9 inch pie pan.  Make a well in the center and add milk and oil.  Use a fork to mix and spread pie crust into bottom of tin and up the sides.  Bake in 375 degree oven for 12-15 minutes until golden brown if recipe calls for baked pie crust.

That flaky culinary school pie?  The secrets were BIG chunks of COLD butter.  When you rolled out the crust, you could literally see the chunks, which create pockets of steamy butter and flakes in the crust.  Wet fillings, like berry pies, tend to turn flaky crusts into a soggy mess.  The oil crust is actually ideal for this kind of pie and gives a tender, crispy, crumbly crust.

He’s Back! David Bull Returns to the Austin Dining Scene

One of my biggest culinary crushes is David Bull.  James Beard Best Chef Southwest nominee, Food and Wine Best New Chef, Iron Chef competitor, and a genuinely nice guy, former Driskill executive chef David Bull will be returning to Austin in Fall 2010 with a trio of restaurants at the Austonian on 2nd and Congress.  Congress will be the name of the formal dining room, 2nd will be a more casual bistro, and Bar Congress will round things out with the cocktail crowd. 

Chef Bull recently conducted a vegetarian cooking class at Central Market.  Do not worry, he has not gone vegetarian on us.  Just showing off his creativity in a healthy way. 

Black garlic is a hot ticket item right now.  It becomes black through a fermentation process and the flavor mellows and becomes sweet.  You can find it at gourmet and Asian markets.

Black Garlic Miso Dressing 

  • 1/2 cup black garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup yellow miso paste
  • 2 teaspoons green onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup water

Place all ingredients into a high speed blender and puree until smooth.  Store covered in refrigerator until ready for use. 

First course was a lovely little bite of avocado mousse with sunflower sprouts, jicama, jalapeno, and grapefruit.
Second was white gazpacho with red grapes, soy milk, and toasted almonds. White gazpacho is the lesser known cousin to the red version both of which are served cold and an excellent summer soup. Those are red grapes in the soup but chef Bull serves them peeled. Glad I was not working the kitchen during this class!

 

The next dish brought a surprising combination in tomato and watermelon tartatare. Before you scrunch up your nose, imagine how similar the texture is between the two. The sweetness of a garden fresh heirloom tomato is enhanced by the juicy watermelon. Speaking of gazpachos, the two would make a wonderful red version as well.

 

A bumper crop of Texas peaches this year inspired this watercress salad with Texas peaches on buttered brioche.
Daikon "noodles" with green beans and coriander were good but the dressing, Black Garlic Miso, was a flavor bomb of deliciousness.
Gnocchi with oven roasted tomatoes and black olive oil brought a delicious conclusion to the all veggie feast.
 

To Cook Well

Here is the essay I recently entered at  http://bourdainmediumraw.com  If you like it, please take a minute to vote for me.  Thanks!

     UPDATE!  I am hoping this link works to take you straight to my essay.       http://bourdainmediumraw.com/essays/view/1031       

   To Cook Well

   To cook well is to know the “blub, blub, blub” sound coming from the pot means the polenta is almost done.  It is to know by a whiff of still raw bacon that you have four minutes to go versus the slightly acrid smell that comes from pork gone one minute too long. It is the slapping sound of the bread dough coming from the stand mixer that tells you the gluten is ready.  It is the sense of karmic timing that allows you to go deeper and darker into that caramel color and then stop all cooking with a cool liquid only a split second before brown turns to burned.  It is the shake of a fry pan that tells you there is a proper sear.  It is the ability to reach into your mental rolodex of flavors and pull tarragon out as the right one to finish a sauce.  Now try doing all of that while in a  complex ballet done with three tatted up foul mouthed alcoholics, two cousins from Guatemala that have more kitchen experience than the manager but speak little English, and the green kid from culinary school who is still learning the steps in a space roughly equivalent to a walk in closet.

To cook well is a mandate that some feel in their soul.  Anyone can flip a burger.  But to flip a burger with pride, to want to serve the best damn burger not just to one customer but to everyone that comes through your establishment turns the cook into a chef, the restaurant worker into an artist.  It gives you the fortitude to soldier on through your third double shift, to work through the holidays of normals, to survive a night of too much tequila after an especially busy Tuesday left you pumped up with adrenalin making sleep all but impossible.

Cooking well demands that you supreme the orange, not just cut it into pithy slices.  Drives you to carefully sort through a pallet of lettuce for only the freshest bits.  Compels you to spend your rare days off looking for inspiration in farmers’ markets and competitors menus.  It is the animated expression that comes across your face as you talk about your latest version of sweetbread stuffed tortellini.

To cook well is a madness that takes hold of your soul.  Madness that turns scarred flesh into badges of honor.  Madness that turns transitory nourishment into memories of relatives long gone.  A madness that inspires dreams of a delicious future.

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